Every year, Menton, a town on the French Riviera, celebrates life, the universe and the existence of fruit. Particularly, citrus fruit, specifically – lemons, with a few thousand oranges and limes thrown in for good measure. Who knew there could be so many lemons left lying around after the harvest that you could build dozens of parade floats, decorate an entire town with them and still have enough left over to make ice cream and marmalade?
Hundreds of thousands of citrus fruits are used to adorn statues and sculptures and create parade floats of every size and shape. All covered entirely with fruit, and the heady smell of lemon wafts across the town. In fact, if you close your eyes and take a deep breath, you can smell them from as far away as Italy. Italian bees have been known to travel from the other side of Rome just to impregnate a French lemon blossom. If Johnson’s wax could bottle this and sell it they’d make a fortune. Oh wait, they can and they did. It’s not quite the same as the Menton version though.
My memories of last year’s festival are dominated by my amazement at the sheer quantity of fruit needed to create these masterpieces of citrine sculpture. That’s a new use of the word by the way – “citrine,” as in “made out of citrus fruit.” It’s always nice to be in on the ground floor of something new and exciting in the English language like “Google” and “blog.” I have a feeling citrine will be up there in no time at all. Spread the word people.
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow
Here comes a candle to light you to bed
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!
Menton’s proximity to Italy pulls in a very Italian “flavour,” to the parades and many of the participants are Italian. One memorable group from last year’s event was the Italian flag twirling team. I’m not exactly certain how or why this particular group came into being, but think male majorettes in jester-like uniforms, with flagpoles instead of batons and you are getting the idea. I witnessed only one minor mishap and it’s comforting to know the French paramedics are fast to react in an emergency. The unlucky recipient of a flagpole to the head was quickly cleaned up and back on her feet, only slightly the worse for wear. I understand Limoncello works wonders for a mild concussion. If that had happened in the USA, she would probably own Menton by now. I do hope those Italians have been putting in some training during the off-season and we won’t be seeing a repeat performance. But that’s one of the joys of life in France – a certain disregard for the consequences that allows you to enjoy life to the full even if it does mean you have to take the occasional knock on the head.
The Fete du Citron started life as a Carnival in the late 1800s as a way of creating some winter business for the local merchants and hotels and to give the inhabitants an excuse to overindulge a little before the beginning of Lent, but has since become a world-renowned attraction, drawing visitors from all corners of the globe. According to the Menton Tourist office, Queen Victoria was somehow involved in the 1882 fete, and a statue of her still sits majestically on the seafront, surprisingly left alone by the pigeons – even after all this time no pigeon would dare mess with Queen Vic. Lemons were introduced in 1934 and “la Fete du Citron,” was born, which is, I was surprised to discover, a registered trade mark.
Last year’s theme for the fete was “Islands of the World,” and you can expect some spectacular creations whenever you visit. The fete begins in mid-February and runs until early March with parades on Sundays. Night parades with fireworks are on Thursday and Friday nights. Tickets for the parades, special events and other related exhibits can be obtained from:
Office de Tourisme de Menton
8 avenue Boyer
Le Palais de l’Europe
06500 Menton – France
Tél : 04.92.41.76.95
Tickets can also be booked online at: www.feteducitron.com
Prices range from 9 to 22 Euros depending on which parade you would like to see, with seats being slightly more expensive. And as with all things French Riviera, expect to fight for a parking space.